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The working title of the film was Jungle. According to the film's foreword, Frank Buck had twenty years of experience trekking "into the jungles of the world for the purpose of bringing back alive and in perfect condition, the strange, wild animals, birds and reptiles which you see in zoos and menageries everywhere." A notice at the beginning of the film, which is sub-titled the "Official and Authentic Motion Picture Record of the RKO Van Beuren Malayan Jungle Expedition," states that "every foot of this picture was actually photographed in the Malayan jungle country." The Motion Picture Herald reviewer, however, questioned the authenticity of the animal fight sequences. In an "addendum" to that review, Terry Ramsaye, editor of Motion Picture Herald, defended the film's authenticity, claiming that the animal action was all shot "in a compound adjacent to the city of Singapore, in the Straits Settlements." Ramsaye continues: "The scenes staged and recorded in the compound May be accepted as dramatically reasonable reconstructions of what actually happens in the open jungle." As Leonard Mitchell was an established sound effects person, the above "effects" credit would probably refer to sound, not photographic effects. The film appears to have been shot "silent," with a soundtrack added in post-production. During the New York run, Buck appeared before the screenings and told "jungle" tales to the enormous sellout crowds, according to Variety. Modern sources state that the film grossed almost two million dollars and was a major success for RKO.
In his autobiography, All in a Lifetime, Buck tells the following story about the making of the picture: Buck got the idea of making Bring 'Em Back Alive after he saw Ernest Schoedsack and Merian Cooper's films Grass (Paramount, 1925) and Chang (Paramount, 1927). In spite of the success of his book, however, he failed to interest any of the major studios in adapting it for the screen. Finally turning to makers of short film subjects, Buck was contracted by Van Beuren Corp., a subsidiary of RKO that specialized in shorts and cartoons, to produce thirteen short films. Van Beuren Corp. financed Buck's expedition to Malaya and offered Buck a percentage of the films's profits. After shooting 125,000 feet of film in Malaya, Sumatra, India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Buck convinced Van Beuren to release a 7,000-foot feature, instead of a series of shorts. RKO edited portions of Bring 'Em Back Alive and its sequels, Wild Cargo and Fang and Claw (see below), into a new "best of" feature called Jungle Cavalcade, which was released in 1941. Bring 'Em Back Alive was re-released in 1948. In the fall of 1982, CBS aired a television series called Bring 'Em Back Alive, which was based loosely on Buck's life. The series, which starred Bruce Boxleitner, ran from September 1982 to February 1983, and from May 1983 to June 1983.